Indigenous Environmental Health: Report of the Fifth National Conference 2004
Environmental Health for Aboriginal Communities at the Shire of Dirby - West Kimberley
Nick Alford, Environmental Health Officer for Aboriginal communities, Shire of Derby - West Kimberley
Ken O’Donnell, Environmental Health Field Support Officer, Shire of Derby - West Kimberley
Gary Smith, Environmental Health Field Support Officer, Shire of Derby - West Kimberley
Aims and objectivesThe program was developed to provide comprehensive environmental health services for Aboriginal people and to improve the level and standard of environmental health in Aboriginal communities. The program aims to:
- Provide support and advice to Aboriginal environmental health workers and others in communities providing environmental health services.
- Support regular environmental health services for Aboriginal communities in the region.
- Provide or facilitate repair and maintenance programs to environmental health facilities and equipment on Aboriginal communities in the region.
- Monitor and survey the environmental health conditions of communities and assist with accredited information collection programs.
- Advance and promote the cause of improved environmental health for Aboriginal communities in the region.
ProgramThe program was carried out in the Shire of Derby - West Kimberley in Western Australia and provides services to 54 Aboriginal communities in the region. The Health Department of Western Australia, in partnership with the Shire of Derby - West Kimberley, implemented the program. Initially, contracts were on a year-by-year basis. Following last year’s review of state health services by the Health Minister, Jim McGinty, three-year contracts have now been introduced.
There was limited community participation in the program’s inception. However, our environmental health team works actively with numerous community organisations to deliver environmental health programs.
Results and evaluationThe program is evaluated by addressing the list of desired outcomes (aims) detailed above. Half-yearly reports are submitted to the Office of Aboriginal Health.
Many Aboriginal people now have a better understanding of the impact of environmental health on communities and are more readily able to see problems and determine solutions. This empowers people to address local environmental health issues to improve their living conditions, health and wellbeing. Furthermore, community people are readily approaching the shire for assistance and advice—a direct result of developing relationships.
It is a funding requirement that we address all aims and objectives. However, new challenges emerge every day.
SustainabilityThe program continues to benefit Aboriginal people as the shire acts as a support and knowledge base for community-based environmental health workers. Education programs, training courses and general activities in communities have lifted the profile of environmental health and improved knowledge about how to avoid sickness and disease and look after the environment. Regulatory duties have improved the standard of building in communities, ensured that development is in accordance with community layout plans, continued monitoring of food outlets and Home and Community Care kitchens, improved the health of community dogs through the Dog Health Program, reduced the likelihood of diseases that can spread from animals to humans, and helped identify environmental health priorities through the Environmental Health Needs Survey.
Since the program’s inception and due to its success, other shires throughout the state have replicated the Aboriginal Environmental Health Program. Some of these shires include Wyndham–East Kimberley, Broome, Halls Creek, Roebourne, Port Hedland, Ashburton and Kalgoorlie.
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Lessons learnedWe are constantly learning from our involvement in the program. Big improvements are not going to be evident for a long time. It is better to run small, achievable projects regularly and not become disenchanted by failures, but be encouraged by successes. Providing environmental health services to communities sometimes involves flexibility and patience.
One of the major challenges of the program is the sheer size of the area we cover. As a result we have to allocate our resources carefully. The wet season and the heat sometimes make access to communities prohibitive. Quite often there is a lack of assistance and/or motivation on the part of those we are trying to help. We have begun to overcome some of these problems by obtaining funding for an extra vehicle, developing a close working partnership with Cultural Health (Fitzroy Crossing resource agency), and carrying out environmental health awareness in communities to lift support when undertaking environmental health activities.
Unexpected things always happen in the field. There are too many to mention here. The program is ongoing—we are always looking to do things differently and improve.
Visiting communities regularly helps to develop relationships and to more effectively monitor problems, provide advice and build working partnerships.
Budget and fundingThe program is funded through the Office of Aboriginal Health Branch of the Western Australian Department of Health. An environmental health officer and two field support officers are allocated $250 000 per year to undertake the Environmental Health Program. The Shire of Derby - West Kimberley provides the administration base.
Contacts, links and resourcesWe have a large database of contacts and also a collection of graphic-rich education packages, equipment and resources, digital images and ideas. We have provided CD-ROM education packages to communities and health agencies throughout Australia. The Derby environmental health team is readily contactable and always happy to help.
For further information
Environmental Health Officer for Aboriginal communities,
Shire of Derby - West Kimberley
PO Box 94, Derby,
Western Australia 6728
Phone: 08 9191 0999
Fax: 08 9193 1755